Georgia is the coolest country you’ve never been to. Not quite Asian, not fully European, this little country is known for the world’s oldest wines, hospitality of its people and – good news to outdoor addicts – unparallel hiking opportunities.
Located south of the Caucasus mountains, Georgia has trails for all levels of hikers, whether you’ve just bought your first par of boots or are an experienced wilderness camper.
There are three main hiking regions in Georgia that I visited in the summer of 2019 – and here are the best hikes in all of them.
Kasbegi is the most touristic hiking region in Georgia, mainly thanks to its accessibility: about three hours north of Tbilisi, it’s easy to get there either on a marshrutka minibus or a shared taxi. A minibus should cost about 10 GEL (3 e) but it’s worth taking the “tourist marshrutka” – AKA a tourist taxi – that stops in points of interest on the way to or from Tbilisi (20 GEL – roughly 7 e.) It’s possible to visit Kasbegi in just one day but the region is best enjoyed for a weekend.
Most accommodation options – plus restaurants, ATMs, tourist infos and cafés – in Kasbegi are found in the town of Stepantsminda.
Gergeti Trinity church and Gergeti glacier
Duration: 20.5 km / 7-8 hours
Possibly the most popular hike in Georgia – and the most iconic. Leaving town, the trail ascends up to the famous Gergeti Trinity church. A steep climb is soon rewarded with views over Stepantsminda on one side and the majestic profile of Mount Kazbeg on the other, only slightly ruined by the newly-built asphalt road by the church. If your feet are feeling heavy, you can turn back at the church and enjoy a glass of strong, delicious wine at one of the small outdoor cafés on the hillside. In this case, the whole hike will probably take about 45 minutes to an hour one-way.
If you’re ready for a challenge, though, you can follow the trail further up the mountain towards the looming figure of Mount Kazbeg until the Gergeti glacier. The trail is not technically difficult and it’s easy to follow but considering the elevation gain (and again loss on the way down) of 1,600 m, you better start out early.
It’s possible to extend this hike to two days and stay over at the Betlemi mountain hut – especially if you’re planning to summit Mount Kazbeg. As far as 5,000 m peaks go, I’ve heard Kazbeg is on the easier end, but you’ll still need appropriate gear, mountaineering experience and a guide.
Duration: 4 km / 1 hour
About a twenty-minute drive north of Stepantsminda is the town of Gveleti, home to two beautiful waterfalls. The hike to the small waterfall is easy while the way to the big one requires a tiny bit of climbing – but it’s still an easy hike for even children to do. Visit the small one first, then climb up to the big one for views over the valley that will remind you of a Jurassic Park-esque Lost World. (And bring a friend – you’ll get some awesome shots for Instagram here.)
You can take a taxi from Stepantsminda to get to the starting point or hitchhike.
Svaneti, the second most popular outdoor region, is also the heart of Georgian winter activities: during the snowy season, it turns into an Alpine-like ski resort.
One winding mountain road leads to the town of Mestia, the main town in the area which is also the best place to start your hikes. Accommodation options range from camping sites and backpackers’ dormitories to mid- and high-end mountain hotels. There are plenty of restaurants and small kiosks in town, a money exchange point, a Beeline SIM card shop plus two ATMS – although it’s better to carry a little extra cash with you on arrival since it’s possible that the ATMs are empty.
There is an early minibus to Mestia from Tbilisi and it takes 9 hours to get there; optionally, you can take a bus to the city of Zugdidi (they are a little more frequent) and another bus from there to Mestia. You could also fly: the cute propeller plane only takes 55 minutes from Tbilisi and 45 from Kutaisi, and costs about 80-90 GEL (30 e.)
Because of its more remote location, it’s best to spend 2-3+ days in the region.
Zuruldi ridge hike to the Mentashi radio tower
Duration: 6 km / 1.5 hrs OR 24 km / 9 hrs
Level: Easy / Moderate
This is the easiest hike in Mestia — if you take the ski-lift up. The ski lift costs 15 GEL (5 e) per person and from there, it takes about 40 minutes to walk the 3 kilometres to the Mentashi radio mast.
If you’re looking for more movement (or are broke like me), it’s also possible to hike up from Mestia. In that case, you can take the trail by the ski lift and ascend up till the asphalt road, which you follow until it turns into a dirt road and climbs up the ski slope on the other side of the ski-lift station. Once you get to the asphalt road, it’s worth hitchhiking until you hit gravel to save yourself 4-5 km of boring road walking.
If you leave early in the morning, you can prolong the hike and follow the path down from the radio tower to the town of Tsvirmi. There you can hitch a ride back to Mestia or spend a night at a guest house.
Mestia to Koruldi lakes
Duration: 16.5 km / 7 hours
Level: Moderate / Hard
The hike to Koruldi lakes is mostly moderate going – once you’ve conquered the first hurdle, which is the incredibly steep climb up from Mestia and to the cross on top of the hill. From there, though, you’ll be rewarded with amazing views over Mestia and the surrounding valleys and mountains.
(You can also take a car up to the cross – but what’s the fun in that?)
From there, the path progresses through mountain meadows and up a ridge until you reach the lakes. The lakes are nothing unusual but the surrounding mountainscape is mind-blowingly pretty.
Mestia to Mazeri
Duration: 22 km / 9 hours
If you’re looking for an absolutely gorgeous, less populated hike, turn left at the signpost for Koruldi lakes and continue towards the town of Mazeri. It isn’t well signposted but for most of the way, there is only one trail, so it’s easy enough to follow. On the way, you’ll cross small mountain streams, green valleys dotted with yellow flowers and grass swaying in the gentle wind. The path eventually ascends to Guli pass where at 2,950 m you have a breathtaking panorama over the valleys on both sides – as well as Mount Ushba, if it’s not a cloudy day.
The steep descent down the other side is no fun and it’s easy to lose the trail but this was one of the most beautiful hikes I did in Georgia.
Mazeri has some guesthouses (some can even be booked through Booking.com) so you can stay there overnight and the next day either take a (ridiculously expensive) taxi back to Mestia or hitchhike.
Mestia to Ushguli
Duration: 57 km / 4 days
A popular hike has well earned its good name! This four-day trek from Mestia to the UNESCO listed town of Ushguli is fairly accessible to even the more inexperienced hikers since the days are short (10-18 km per day) and there are plenty of other hikers to ask for advice. Plus, you won’t need to carry much gear since every village has guest houses where usually for 60-70 GEL (20 e) you’ll get a private room, dinner and breakfast.
The highlight of this hike is the third day: leaving the isolated village of Adishi, you’ll hike through green meadows and soon get to a point where you’ll need to cross a glacial river. You can pay an awaiting horseman 15-20 GEL (5-7 e) to take a pony across or step into the freezing ice water and walk across yourself! From there, the path ascends steeply, all the while serving awesome views over the Adishi glacier.
The hike ends in the town of Ushguli that is known for its traditional lifestyle and defensive stone towers that can be found everywhere else in the region, too. From Ushguli, you can take a minibus back to Mestia.
Tusheti is the least visited hiking region in Georgia and for a good reason – the only way to get there is via an unpaved, winding jeep track, only accessible about four months a year and often dubbed as “the world’s most dangerous road”. A jeep costs 250 GEL and they leave when full so you should expect to pay 50-60 GEL (17-20 e) per person. Once you get there, though, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful mountains and rural villages with barely any other tourists.
The season in Tusheti starts depending on when the snow melts, usually mid-June, and ends when snow blocks the road, usually mid-October.
The main town is Omalo. Most towns in the area have guest houses now but taking taxis around is very expensive so if you want to stay somewhere else, it’s better to spend the first night in Omalo and hike to your next destination the following day.
There are very few restaurants but guest houses can usually provide dinner and breakfast. The few small kiosks have limited options (usually no fresh fruit) and they’re pretty expensive. There are also no ATMs in Omalo so make sure you have enough cash for your whole visit!
Diklo fort hike
Duration: 26 km / 9 hours
Type: Round-trip / Loop
Diklo is the last inhabited village before the Russian border and is best known for a ruined castle standing on its outskirts. You can choose between two routes, either the one marked with red that runs in the forest and is supposedly a little harder, or the yellow one that runs along the dusty jeep road. Both routes are pretty easy, though – the biggest hardship comes from the length of the trip.
It’s possible to stay in a guest house in Diklo or even hike from there to Dartlo but that route is supposedly pretty hard.
(Omalo – Parsma – Jverboseli / Verkhovili – Omalo)
Duration: 57 km / 3 days
Level: Moderate / Hard
The first day of this three-day trek takes you to the famous Dartlo village where you can have lunch before continuing. (If you just want to visit Dartlo, you can easily hike there and back to Omalo in one day.) The second day is the best one – and the hardest: you’ll have to ascend over 1,000 m to the Nakaicho pass and descend again on the other side but it’s the one part of the trail that completely leaves the jeep track behind.
Note: In summer 2019 the bridge from Parsma was destroyed by flooding. It’s still possible to cross it with a little bit of acrobatics and dare-devilness (the remaining structure is steady) but if you’re feeling insecure about your skills, you should be able to ask a local to take you across on a horse.
The third day, again, follows the jeep road back to Omalo. If I was to hike it again, I would change the route and climb back up to the Nakaicho pass to follow the ridge path to the Ghele meadow and back to Omalo. This way you’ll get to enjoy the beautiful Tusheti nature a little longer and you’re not so likely to get bothered by over-possessive sheepdogs.
Mtskheta to the Jvari monastery
Duration: 5 km / 1+ hour
Just half an hour north of Tbilisi lies the old capital of Mtskheta and its culturally important monasteries. While most people grab a taxi in town to visit the Jvari monastery on the hill, you can also hike up there. The walk is easy – although uphill – and should take about an hour.
Hiking in Georgia
Finally, here are a few things you should know before hiking in Georgia:
- In general, hiking season runs from June to October but the best time to go is in July or August when all the snow has surely melted.
- There are many, many more trails to choose from! All of the ones listed here can easily be done independently but some of the wilderness trails have bad marking and are best done with a guide. All of the hikes on this list, however, are well marked and can be followed with a little help from apps like Maps.me. Local tourist information points also have maps available.
- Wild camping in Georgia is free and legal. My biggest regret is having left my tent back home – there are many awesome trails that are only accessible to campers since there are no guest houses on the way.
- Weather in Georgia is mostly hot in the summer, with the mountains experiencing slightly cooler temperatures. Prepare for rain and thunderstorms and pack a sturdy pair of shoes.
- Hitchhiking in Georgia is as safe as anywhere – and very fun! It’s relatively easy to hitch a ride to Stepantsminda or Mestia but I wouldn’t recommend trying to get to Omalo that way – most of the traffic going that way is paid jeeps who are not going to pick you up, plus the road is so tricky it’s best to have a driver who knows what they’re doing.
- A great resource to consult is Caucasus-Trekking.com, a local blog devoted entirely to all the hikes and treks in Georgia.